Confronting a Spouse’s Addiction
Q: If I know that my husband is abusing prescriptions drugs is it godly to call the prescribing doctor and be kept confidential by him?
A: Are you talking about keeping yourself anonymous from the doctor or asking the doctor not to tell your husband? And whichever you would do, how would either you or your husband benefit?
Under normal circumstances, if we’re the only one aware of another’s sinful behavior, the preferred first step is to talk to that person privately. If your husband is abusing drugs, he is not only hurting himself and breaking the law, he also is sinning against you — something Jesus addressed explicitly in Matthew 18: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (v. 15)”
Of course, if your brother (and husband) is a threat to become violent, you must also take into account your own safety and that of any children you might have. Then you might want to begin later in the process, “one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (v. 16)” This is basically what happens in a staged intervention. Also, if you fear violence, you already have a problem much more complex than addiction alone.
Besides any issues of personal honesty and integrity that anonymity involves, how effective would such an action be? You don’t say how old he is, but most addicts, whether working or retired, do a good job of hiding their addiction and any accompanying misbehavior quite well for at least a while. Usually families are the first to know — although often the last to admit — addicts’ problems.
So even if the doctor hides your role, how likely is it that anyone else would have blown the whistle on your husband? Unless his behavior makes his addiction boldly obvious, family, close friends, and job will be his only “suspects” when trying to figure out who “turned on him.” This could rebound negatively once intervention and treatment begin because he could seize on your actions as an excuse to doubt your honesty and commitment to him.
If you truly care not only about protecting yourself and your family but also about restoring your husband to health and your marriage to honesty and openness, I see little to be gained by and anonymity, even at the beginning — unless, as noted, violence is likely. Working with doctors, counselors, and other concerned individuals will involve ongoing commitment to your husband and to the healing process. This will challenge your strength just as certainly as addiction does your husband’s. The testing of your promise of fidelity “in sickness and in health” will not end but will only intensify once his destructive behavior is addressed.
I realize that I only know what you’ve told me about you and him, so I’ve only written in generalities. Since you asked a Christian clergyman, I assume you are a Christian trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation and strength. I hope that your husband, even in the bonds of addiction, also believes. This will allow a caring pastor to work with both of you as the process of confrontation and healing unfolds. Before even contacting your doctor or confronting your husband, I urge you to invest immediately in a prayerful discussion with your pastor. If he’s prepared to go the full distance with you, continue on as quickly as possible.
I also suggest that you educate yourself about addiction, emphasizing information about the specific drug involved. You might also investigate support groups to help you and any other family members. Be careful about your sources, however. While many reputable organizations and individuals provide helpful information, be aware that Narconon International publicly embraces the teaching of L. Ron Hubbard and is widely believed to be a front organization for the Church of Scientology. Don’t confuse them with Narcotics Anonymous (an organization for addicts similar to Alcoholics Anonymous), Nar-Anon (family support along the lines of Al-Anon), or other groups dedicated to healing addicts and helping their families.
Please don’t trap yourself into thinking that you are the focal point of intervention and treatment. While the Lord will likely use you to help your husband, you need to remember that you need His constant strength, guidance, and forgiveness — even more so in the trying times yet to come. Scripture tells us, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6-7)” God also reminds you, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (Psalm 50:15)”
In these troubled days, take comfort from your heavenly Father and His love for you in Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)” As Paul encouraged the conflicted Christians of Corinth, so I encourage you in these tumultuous times, “Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)”
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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Newspaper column #525